Wild Tigers, Painted Bird

Pub date May 1, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

COSTUME One gray Garfield sweatshirt; a blue wool sleeveless sweater with little birds and a white sheep stitched on it; clean Chuck Taylor high-tops; an orange Kawasaki motorcycle T-shirt; a little red hoodie; a beige suede vest with tassels. These are some of the clothes sported by Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), the gender-jumping cusp-of-teens boy at the center of Cam Archer’s debut feature, Wild Tigers I Have Known.

"At that age you aren’t concerned with what other people think. You choose what [clothing] appeals to you – you’re just going for it," says Stephanie Volkmar, the film’s costume designer, as cars whiz by on Guerrero Street. "Logan’s outfits are sometimes outrageous, or some might say a little risque. Cam has an obsession with short-shorts and tank tops. He’ll be mad if that makes it into print, but it does help express the character’s vulnerability. We wanted Logan to wear things that would make him seem awkward and different."

One reason I’m asking Volkmar about her no-budget costume work for Wild Tigers is that she works at the store we’re sitting next to, Painted Bird. Over the past two years, I’ve assembled a Painted Bird wardrobe about as expansive as Logan’s, though riddled with the occasional label (Dior, Gucci, Adidas – all cheap), thus proving Volkmar’s point that in comparison to adults, kids just don’t care.

It turns out that Painted Bird’s connection to Archer’s movie – which, after debuting last year at the Sundance Film Festival, plays as part of the Mission Creek festivities – is also familial. The director’s brother, Nate, who did the movie’s layered, impressionistic sound design, is (along with Sonny Walker) one of the shop’s co-owners. "Nate is good at finding [music] that blows me away," Volkmar says. He certainly succeeds in Wild Tigers, braiding everything from the hand claps and "oo-oowoh" ‘s of the Michael Zager Band’s disco classic "Let’s All Chant" to the drowsy, faraway loneliness of Laura Nyro’s "Desiree" and the Langley Schools Music Project around Logan’s daydreams.

According to Volkmar, both Wild Tigers and Painted Bird emerged from family or familylike bonds formed in Santa Clara, where she met Cam Archer and worked on about 10 other short projects with him. Judging by the many five-star reviews for Painted Bird on sites such as Yelp, I’m not the only one who wants to rave about Walker and Nate Archer’s shop while also being protective of it. Why? It avoids the kitsch pitfalls and the overdressed look favored by SF vintage and secondhand places, and most important, its low prices correspond with a friendly atmosphere. Keeping an eye out for quality moderate vintage labels as much as typical high-end names, the Painted Bird folks are in the clothing biz because they like clothes, and they have a definite, yet easygoing, sensibility.

In Wild Tigers, Logan has a unique sensibility too, but his run through lust is a mostly solitary one. Though its conflation of the titular animals with desire might be a nod to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (as well as drawn from Santa Clara’s untamed suburban terrain), Archer’s movie emerges from the still too-small genre of US queer kids’ films that includes Todd Haynes’s Dottie Gets Spanked, Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and SF director Justin Kelly’s new Cannes-bound short, Front. (Also, one of Wild Tigers‘ executive producers, Darren Stein, was behind the pre-Tarnation queer childhood doc Keep the Camera on Me.) Without a doubt, Volkmar’s costumes have a role in some of the movie’s best scenes, such as when Logan’s friend Joey (Max Paradise) – complete with a golden bowl cut and a striped shirt buttoned all the way up to its collar – tries to get him to contribute to a "ways to be cool" list.

A cynic might point out that there isn’t a huge gap between the outfits sported by the children of Wild Tigers and the clothes favored by San Francisco’s eternal youth of today. (I stand semiconvicted.) In fact, Volkmar drew extensively from the shop where she works while dressing the movie’s primarily preteen and teen characters. But the spirit of Painted Bird’s staff is a lot like Logan from Wild Tigers: not too cool for school, just – as Volkmar says – going for it. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Wed/16, call or see Web site for time, $4-$8

Roxie Film Center

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